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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Debate over country song is a right-wing trap for Democrats.

The debate over the song “Try That in a Small Town” is an excellent example of a particularly devious right-wing extremist trap – one that the GOP will use against Democrats again and again in 2024. Dems need to understand what the trap is designed to accomplish, how it works and how to defend against it.

Read the Memo.

A Democratic Political Strategy for Reaching Working Class Voters That Starts from the Actual “Class Consciousness” of Modern Working Americans.

by Andrew Levison

Read the Memo

Progressives need to apologize to Oliver Anthony

He understands working people better than they do, he can talk to them better than they can.

Read the Memo.

Why Don’t Working People Recognize and Appreciate Democratic Programs and Policies

The mythology of “Franklin Roosevelt’s Hundred Days” and the Modern Debate Over “Deliverism.”

Read the Memo.

Innovative Study Offers New Insight into White Working Class Voters.

Innovative Study Provides Startling New Insight About Working Class Voters
By Andrew Levison

Read the memo.

Democrats Will Lose Elections in 2022 and 2024 if They do Not Offer a Plausible Strategy for Reducing the Surge of Immigrants at the Border.

Read on…

The Daily Strategist

October 4, 2023

Dems Have Growing Mandate to Help Poor

The first presidential primary debates of both parties made it clear that only one party embraces a commitment to government policies to help people living in poverty. Fortunately for Dems, an increasing percentage of Americans are embracing this commitment as well, according to analysis of recent polls conducted by Ruy Teixeira. As Teixeira reports in his Center for American Progress post “Public Opinion Snapshot: Americans Extend Helping Hand to the Poor“:

Politicians tend to avoid the subject of poverty on the theory that voters aren’t very interested in helping the poor. Yet public opinion data consistently shows that the public is very willing to extend a helping hand to the least fortunate in society.
…A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in January of this year, for example, shows that 69 percent agree that “the government should guarantee every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep” and an identical 69 percent agree that “it is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves.” These figures are up 10 and 12 points respectively relative to their recent low point in 1994.
Americans are also willing to consider a wide range of options for helping the poor…an NPR/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard poll from 2001…shows, four proposals garnered 80 percent support or higher: expanding subsidized day care, increasing the minimum wage, spending more for medical care for poor people, and increasing the tax credit for low-income workers. Yet every option offered, even increasing cash assistance for families, received majority support.

Teixeira’s post includes a set of graphics showing strong support for a host of anti-poverty measures, and includes a link to the Center for American Progress Task Force on Poverty policy report “From Poverty to Prosperity: A National Strategy to Cut Poverty in Half” — highly recommended for Democrats interested in anti-poverty reforms.

Denialfest in Gipperland

There was a lot to be disturbed about in the first GOP debate, other than the fact that three out of ten — nearly a third of the GOP presidential candidate field — apparently believe the earth is only 7,000 years old. Scarecrow’s “Republican Candidates in Denial” at Firedoglake nails it well:

After the “debate,” MSNBC’s panelists tried to hype the disagreements, but they missed the fact that these men share a common mindset detached from where the rest of the country is….They do not see a nation angry at them about the war nor shamed by a government that sanctions torture. With their Reaganesqe optimism, they do not see families struggling with health care costs, job security, retirement security, and college tuition. They don’t seem to worry whether the government is doing enough to protect us from unsafe working conditions, unsafe products, unsafe foods and drugs. They apparently don’t see global warming as a national security or economic threat. American democracy is not threatened; the Constitution is not under siege, and Americans don’t hate the Bush regime for what it has done to our liberties (Paul excepted). Attacks on the rights of women, gays, and immigrants and anyone who looks like the “enemy” are non-issues.

Digby gooses a few chuckles out of the whole sorry show with his riff on Fineman’s comments about how manly the GOP field looks and the softball questions lobbed their way. Pollster.com‘s Mark Blumenthal has a way cool “tag clouds” graphic provided by Upstream Analysis President Janet Harris, revealing the GOP candidates’ respective buzzword choices here. Political Animal Kevin Drum has a flashy pie chart here showing who “won,” according to SurveyUSA poll results.
Poll results notwithstanding, it does not appear that any of the GOP candidates are notably charismatic, eloquent or quick-witted. But we sorta knew that going in.

Netroots Article Generates More Buzz

Ed Kilgore’s New Donkey post contributes to the discussion about Jonathan Chait’s New Republic article, adding,

…Chait’s piece, despite a few questionable assertions, is a very good introduction to the whole topic of the netroots’ role in Democratic politics….The criticism most consistently aimed at Chait is that he overemphasizes the role of a handful of high-profile bloggers in coordinating the netroots “message.” I think that’s a bit unfair, since the whole piece was about the netroots as a self-conscious political movement…Chait might have dwelled a bit more on the inherent tension between the medium’s decentralized nature and various effort to make it a unified political force; it’s a tension you see every day in the comments threads of most “activist” sites.

Kilgore, who had an earlier post on the topic at TPM Cafe, has more to say about the article as it relates to the differing agendas of the DLC and the Netroots. His article features links to posts by Eric Alterman, Matt Yglesias and MyDD‘s Chris Bowers, which help to round out the discussion. Bowers’ critique includes this point:

…while Chait is correct that the activist blogosphere is generally focused on achieving politically positive results, he seems to miss the fact that that in order to achieve politically positive results, it is necessary to engage in political strategy that is based on solid ideas. In other words, the activist blogosphere has long been concerned with improving the political tactics and strategies of Democrats and progressives, and we won’t be very effective at that if we intentionally float misinformed ideas on political tactics and strategy. Misinformed, poorly researched, and ill-conceived strategy is not helpful in creating positive political outcomes. We need solid tactics based on solid research and analysis in order to succeed in politics. In that sense, we in the activist blogosphere are very concerned with ideas, logic and truth, but we are more focused on ideas, logical conclusions, and truth as they relate to improving political strategy rather than with debating policy specifics. That isn’t propaganda–it is simply a difference between hacks and wonks.

Alterman and Yglesias’s TNR responses offer their takes on Chait’s article. Says Alterman:

Chait’s range, linguistic felicitousness, and self-confidence are quite impressive. I found myself nodding in agreement through most of the piece at points I hadn’t realized before as Chait’s argument crystallized my thinking in ways that only the best opinion journalism can do…On the other hand–and this is also endemic to the best and worst of almost all opinion pieces but particularly at TNR–Chait’s piece is actually empirically empty. Either we trust Chait or we don’t. I didn’t notice a single point of evidence in the analysis that could not be argued away….The main argument I want to have with Chait concerns what he deems to be the netroots’ purposeful intellectual insularity with regard to the idealized platonic cosmopolitanism of establishment journalists and policy wonks. If history is any guide, it just ain’t so…One could make a sound empirical argument–based on virtually every major event in the Bush presidency–that the MSM narrative was a convenient invention of self-interested parties while the analysis that permeated the netroots has been largely borne out (so far) by history.

Alterman recommends Chris Bowers Democratic Strategist article for a fuller consideration of the role of the Netroots as a political force. Yglesias takes Chait to task for mischaracterizing his views, and continues:

I have about a million things to say about Jonathan Chait’s alternatively brilliant and infuriating essay on the netroots…Meanwhile, Chait’s characterization of the netroots’ beef with The New Republic and the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) seems deliberately obtuse. “What makes such internal enemies so dangerous,” writes Chait, “is that they engage in self-criticism.” In particular, Chait–in a bit of unsubstantiated overstatement–thinks that the netroots considers “any criticism of any part of the Democratic Party or its activist base from the right” to be “treasonous.” Rather, the primary issue is that netroots activists and TNR have major, persistent, principled disagreements about foreign policy. Secondarily, a certain proportion of TNR’s published material evinces a kind of sneering dislike for liberal politicians and activists, even as TNR writers happily market themselves as liberal (but independent-minded!) pundits when such a label suits them. (Until its recent sale to CanWest, it was owned by men who seem to hate most liberals and liberalism as an ideology, which were strange attributes for a liberal publication.)…Chait provides an admirable reconstruction of the intellectual origins of the netroots movement, its love/hate relationship with the conservative movement, and the logic of its objections to the “centrist” political strategies that seemed so appealing in the 1990s–by far the best account by a true outsider that I’m aware of.

All in all, quite an interesting fray — and “The Left’s New Machine” is just getting started.

Netroots Cover Story Draws Heat

Today it’s all about Jonathan Chait’s just posted New Republic article, “The Left’s New Machine: How the Netroots Became the Most Important Mass Movement in U.S. Politics,” which will probably become one of the most frequently-cited resources on the political internet. Many of the political blogs have something to say about it, including these samples:

I guess most of all, and this is why I can’t call Chait’s piece particularly insightful, we don’t gloss over substance or fake civility. More than any other forum with the exception of town halls, the internet allows us to learn what our politicians are going to do. Where else are you going to find arguments about a cap and trade versus a carbon tax? Where else are you going to be able to read about net neutrality resolutions in California, or offshore drilling in Virginia? The local blogs are incredibly substantive in their states, and I like to think that we go into depth into subject areas on MyDD and the rest of the blogs as well.(Matt Stoller, MyDD)
Not the most amazingly insightful piece written, but interesting anyhow. The most important part, and the cons and msm will never get this, is the lack of idealogical rigidity. There’s a coalition of conservative, moderate, and very liberal people who just want to see the Democratic party stop acting like a whipping boy for the press and the right…I still hate the word “netroots” but it is what it is. (Oliver Willis)
If progressives want to win, Chait concludes, they need to learn to fight on the Right’s turf..From a purely pragmatic point of view, Chait has a point. It doesn’t matter how deeply you understand the issues; if you can’t win the political war, you will never be able to implement those ideas. But do you really believe that we have to make an either/or choice between being “chiefly interested” in winning or ideas? (Maggie Mahar at TPM Cafe)
The word propaganda is a loaded term in modern American parlance and he must know that. I don’t actually think that advocacy journalism (or activist blogging) is dishonest, which is what Chait is suggesting, however vaguely…Liberal bloggers advocate for their political causes, people, party, ideas, etc and they make the best argument they can. The people who read us, the politicians, the electorate (to the extent that any of these arguments flow out of the sphere into the mainstream) are the judges. That is not propaganda as we understand it in 2007. I would say it’s not even PR or advertising, both of which suggest some sort of message coordination of which I have also seen little evidence… (Digby’s Hullabalo)
It’s not a bad piece, though Chait obviously struggles to come to a firm conclusion about what the netroots is really all about. This is a predicament I can sympathize with, since I’ve been blogging for five years myself and I still have a hard time putting my finger on it. Is it about ideology? Sort of, but not really. Party loyalty? Yes, though not for everyone. Iron-fisted organizational discipline? Sure, except when it’s not. In some way, the netroots is all about defining what it means to be a “good Democrat,” but beyond that it’s a helluva slippery phenomenon, one of those “I know it when I see it” kind of things.(Kevin Drum’s Political Animal)

Chait has clearly struck a nerve, and there will surely be more responses to his controversial piece posted on the blogs over the next couple of days. Don’t forget to sample the comment strings.

Dems Should Note Groups Public Wants to Help

Gallup has a freebie that merits a gander from Democratic strategists and candidates. The poll, conducted 3/26-29, addresses “Americans’ perceptions about the relative political influence of various groups in the United States.” Gallup reporter Jeffrey Jones kicks off his wrap-up analysis this way:

Of the 14 groups tested in the poll, military veterans are thought to be the most in need of increased government attention. On the other hand, the public is most likely to believe political leaders pay too much attention to big corporations and Hollywood movie executives.

What’s a little fishy here is that one wonders what percentage of Americans can even name three Hollywood executives, or two for that matter. Maybe respondents conflated execs with actors. If there’s a moral here for political strategists, maybe it’s accept their dough graciously, but don’t let Hollywood execs do your campaigning.
But Dems should take very seriously how the public views treatment of military vets. As Jones explains:

Eighty-one percent of Americans say government leaders pay too little attention to the needs of military veterans…The poll was conducted shortly after news reports about poor conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center focused attention on the plight of wounded soldiers returning from Iraq. This news may have helped to push veterans past the poor (77%), small-business owners (68%), and senior citizens (66%) as the group most widely viewed as lacking in government attentiveness.

This is a clear advantage for Dems, given the shoddy treatment vets have received under Bush and at the hands of Republican office-holders in general. Those who have voted in any way to cut or restrict veterans’ benefits should be forced to explain their votes again and again.
A look at the five largest numbers in the survey may be more instructive. Following the 81 percent who believe vets are most in need of more government attention: 77 percent cite the poor as receiving too little attention; 76 percent say big corporations get too much attention; 74 percent say Hollywood execs get too much attention; and 68 percent say small business owners get too little attention.
In terms of political ramifications, the respondents were adults, not registered or likely voters. And it’s hard to imagine that many voters will reason, “I’m not going to vote for so-and-so because he/she gives too much attention to Hollywood execs,” regardless of policies, character and other priorities. But the other percentages relate to needed policy reforms supported by Dems, not Republicans — and are too large to ignore.

Reagan Myth to Cast ’08 Shadow

Tom Bevan has a post, “Reagan’s Shadow” at The Real Clear Politics Blog, predicting that the current crop of GOP presidential candidates will “work to invoke his name and associate themselves with his legacy” in the months ahead, beginning with the first GOP presidential debates at the — you guessed it — Reagan Presidential Library on May 3rd. The idea being that the public needs to be reminded that Republicans once ruled without serial blundering, scandals and foreign policy disasters of epic proportions on an almost daily basis. Reagan nostalgia is likely to become even more of a cottage industry with conservatives and lapdog media as we approach November ’08. Some polling outfits have apparently bought into the meme, as Bevan notes:

The polling firm Strategic Vision recently began asking Republicans in six states whether they believe George W. Bush is “a conservative in the mode of Ronald Reagan.” The results were surprisingly consistent and overwhelmingly negative: 62% of Republicans in Florida answered “no.” The numbers were even worse in the five other states: 68% in Wisconsin, 69% in Pennsylvania, 71% in Michigan, 77% in Iowa and 78% in Georgia.

Even asking such a question suggests that Reagan mythology is still thriving. Reagan, not Lincoln, is clearly the GOP’s internal standard for measuring their candidates, and no doubt, the GOP’s ’08 field will strive to appear more “Reaganesque” as the campaign wears on, just as some Democrats tried to emulate JFK’s persona over the years with less than impressive results. With a few exceptions, the MSM gave the Reagan “legacy” a free pass in the wake of his death, thereby allowing the Reagan myth to grow in stature. By the time summer ’08 rolls around, it will be “Bush who?,” and Reagan’s name and image will be invoked ad nauseum at the GOP convention and during the fall campaign as the GOP’s preeminent symbol. The Democratic attitude should be “Bring it on.”
Democrats, including party leaders and the progressive blogosphere should be ready to demolish the Reagan mythology. Fortunately, this will not be hard, and there are plenty of resources. Probably no source has been more vigilant than The Nation. Start with The Nation’s editorial “The Reagan Legacy,” a succinct wrap-up of the damage done by the Gipper. Proceed to Alexander Cockburn’s blistering essay “Reagan in Truth and Fiction.”
An interesting handful of articles about the most treasured myth of Reagan-worshippers, that he single-handedly won the cold war, can be accessed at this link. For a good overview of the damage done by “Reaganomics,” check out Steve Kangas’ “The Reagan Years:A Statistical Overview of the 1980s.” Walter Field’s “No Tears for Reagan” at BlackAmericaToday.com explains how Reagan obstructed Civil Rights gains.
The GOP will almost certainly wield the Reagan Myth with increasing frequency during the campaign ahead, if only because they have nothing else to project in a positive light. Democrats are not running against Reagan, but some well-crafted sound bites about Reagan’s real record whenever his name is exalted will help show voters which candidates — and which party — tell it straight.

Solid Content, Little Drama in First Debate

First, raspberries to NBC for broadcasting the first Dem presidential primary debate only to those who have the expensive cable TV package or cable modems/DSL hook-ups that actually perform well. This was the opening of a political campaign that has generated wide, intense interest, according to polls, and the public deserved better. So there.
Brian Williams did a good job of asking tough questions and the Dem field performed well as a whole. There are no national post-debate polls out yet, but viewers of the debate are undoubtedly clear on which party’s candidates are committed to getting us out of Iraq as quickly as possible.
The consensus in the blogs and rags seems to be that no candidate leap-frogged over the others and none destroyed their chances. There were no campaign-nuking one-liners like “Where’s the beef?”, or gaffes like Gerald Ford calling Poland a free country.
But there were some impressive sound-bites. Hard to imagine a better answer, for example, than Joe Biden’s when asked what was his worst failure. Without missing a beat, he replied “overestimating the competence of this administration and underestimating the arrogance.” The other candidates should take note. This is a good example of the kind of eloquent brevity that scores in such formats.
It ought to go without saying, but just in case anyone missed it, candidates, please do not under any circumstances compare yourself to “a potted plant.” The creds you gain as a humorist probably won’t last as long in voter memories as the image associated with your name.
For a sense of how the debate is being perceived by Democratic blog-readers, check out MyDD‘s post-debate comment string on the topic. Reports by WaPo and the Grey Lady are available here and here. South Carolina’s leading rag, The State has a decent wrap-up by Aaron Gould Sheinin. OK, to be fair to MSNBC.com, they do have a pretty good debate wrap-up package here, which includes jazzy candidate response thumbnails you can vote on.

Dems Prep for Orangeburg Rumble

You have to surf around to get a good overview of tonight’s ((7:00 p.m. est) debate between presidential candidates in Orangeburg, S.C. We’ll get you started. First, the format, from MSNBC’s ‘First Read’ reporter Mark Murray:

The State has experts saying that tonight’s debate format will make it difficult for anyone outside the top-tier of candidates to break through. “There will be eight candidates on the stage at 7 p.m. facing 90 minutes of questions from NBC News anchor Brian Williams. There are no opening and closing statements. At most, there will be time for about 12 questions, if each candidate is given one minute to respond to each question.”

Sounds like maybe Brian Williams will be the real winner. The upside of the format from a fairness standpoint is that second tier candidates will get equal time, with no commercials. “Special software designed by the network will keep track of how long each candidate gets on the air to ensure equal time,” explains Nedra Pickler in her Associated Press preview.
WaPo’s Chris Cilliza has quickie what-to-look for riffs for each candidate in The Fix. A sample:

The Connecticut senator is our dark horse in tonight’s debate. He’s a fiery speaker who knows that he’s got to peel off supporters from Clinton, Obama and Edwards in order to move his numbers. That’s a combustible combination that could make Dodd the story of the night. Dodd’s strongest weapon? His status as the only Democratic presidential candidate to cosponsor legislation offered by Sens. Russ Feingold (Wisc.) and Harry Reid (Nev.) that would remove funding for the war in Iraq next March. Dodd is also likely to push the frontrunners on specifics as he has touted himself as the candidate of ideas — most notably on energy policy.

Sam Youngman speculates that hot-button issues, like gun control and abortion will set the tone of the debates in his The Hill post “Dems walk tightrope in S.C. on guns.” Youngman sees Dems facing a tough dilemma:

The White House hopefuls will have to address both issues in front of what are essentially two distinct audiences: a national base that leans left on the issues, and a live audience in the crucial state of South Carolina, where Democrats tend to be more socially conservative.

While any candidate would welcome an early victory (Ja. 29) in the South Carolina primary, the debate is nationally-broadcast (MSNBC), and candidates will surely be playing more to the cameras. Interest in the ’08 campaign is substantially higher than usual, according to Pew Research. As the first nationally-broadcast debate, ratings should be high.

How Dem Candidates Should Support Gun Control

DLC President Bruce Reed takes on the conventional wisdom that gun control is a ‘third rail’ for Democrats in his Slate article “It Takes a Bubba: Tougher gun laws are better politics than you think.” He argues that the key to successful advocacy of gun control is linking it to crime control, noting in two nut graphs,

The political case for not running for cover on guns is equally straightforward. Unlike most politicians, voters are not ideological about crime. They don’t care what it takes, they just want it to go down. The Brady Bill and the clip ban passed because the most influential gun owners in America—police officers and sheriffs—were tired of being outgunned by drug lords, madmen, and thugs.
When Democrats ignore the gun issue, they think about the political bullet they’re dodging but not about the opportunity they’ll miss. In the 1980s, Republicans talked tough on crime and ran ads about Willie Horton but sat on their hands while the crime rate went up. When Bill Clinton promised to try everything to fight crime—with more police officers on the street, and fewer guns—police organizations dropped their support for the GOP and stood behind him instead.

Reed also thinks Dem strategists have misinterpreted the effect of support for gun control in the 2000 general election:

The current political calculus is that guns cost Gore the 2000 election by denying him West Virginia and his home state of Tennessee. This argument might be more convincing if Gore hadn’t essentially carried the gun-mad state of Florida. In some states, the gun issue made it more difficult for Gore to bridge the cultural divide but hardly caused it. Four years ago, Gore and Clinton carried those same states with the same position on guns and the memory of the assault-weapons ban much fresher in voters’ minds.

There’s more to discuss about Reed’s article, and his argument ought to generate some buzz in Democratic circles. After all, lives are very much at stake here, and Democratic inaction in response to the Virginia Tech massacre would compound the tragedy and reflect poorly on our leadership.

Frontloaded Primaries Provide Advantages

Chris Bowers has a pair of posts at MyDD in support of frontloaded primaries, and provides a couple of compelling arguments in his first post. Regarding frontloading’s longer focus on candidates:

If anything, frontloading and the long campaign are actually good things for our democracy…Giving the public more information on the candidates vying to hold our most important elected office, and more information on those candidates, are also good things for any democracy…

Concerning the financial advantages of frontloading, and who gets them:

…Inexpensive, early states are still just as available to every underfunded, longshot candidates as they ever were. If you have a full year and several million dollars, your inability to break through to 35% of the small caucus and primary electorates in Iowa, where only 50,000 caucus goers would be enough to win, or New Hampshire, where 100,000 primary voters would be enough to win, is not the fault of a corrupted political system. In 2004, even Dennis Kucinich raised $13,000,000, which would be enough to spend over $85 on each of the voters needed to win both states. Don’t come cryin’ to mama about frontloading, a long campaign, or too much money in the process if you can’t win in Iowa or New Hampshire.

In his second post, Bowers provides data from a recent Pew poll showing that voters are already paying a high level of attention to the presidential campaign, thus the argument that there isn’t enough time for voters to make thoughtful choices is bogus. Bowers notes further:

This increased public interest in the campaign is matched by the rapidly increasing amount of campaign donors and the number of people attending campaign rallies, both of which are easily on record pace compared to other recent elections.

Bowers predicts:

…significantly higher levels of voter turnout than previous primary/caucus seasons. This also means voters will spend more time, not less, making a decision on who to support. And yes, because of the frontloading, far more people will potentially have a say in who is nominated. Increased turnout, more informed voters, a greatly expanded electorate and increased grassroots activism — this is why it is a good thing the campaign is receiving so much attention early in the season.

Democratic bloggers and opinion leaders seem to be evenly divided pro and con about frontloading, and it would be interesting to see a poll of rank and file Democrats on the topic. Meanwhile, it’s a done deal, and candidates have to factor it into their ’08 strategy. The turnout in primaries will be a fair measure for evaluating frontloading, and a Democratic victory in November ’08 will make it a permanent part of presidential campaigns.